Ever wondered exactly where the Operation Ladbroke sites are in Sicily? Here’s a handy battlefield guide to the South Staffords’ coup-de-main objectives.
Please note: it may not be safe or possible to visit some of the Operation Ladbroke sites. See the warning at the bottom of this article.
Waterloo, Putney, Gnat, Mosquito, Walsall, Bilston, Dudley, Gornal. Codenames. A strange mixture of biting insects, London bridges and places in the West Midlands.
The biting insects were codenames for Italian gun batteries. Italian batteries usually consisted of gun emplacements and barracks buildings, and sometimes range finders and fire control bunkers.
The London bridges (Waterloo and Putney) were codenames for bridges over the triple waterways south of Syracuse (the Anapo, Mammaiabica and Ciane).
The other names are those of towns in the old Black Country north-west of Birmingham [map]. They were codenames for Italian strongpoints, which usually consisted of pillboxes surrounded by barbed wire. The codenames would have reminded many British airborne troops of home. Walsall (the UK town, not the Italian strongpoint) is not much over 10 miles as the crow flies from Whittington Barracks [museum], the depot of the Staffordshire Regiment. [For detailed information on the codenames of airborne operations in Sicily, see here.]
The 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (2 South Staffords) was one of two battalions of gliderborne troops in 1 Air Landing Brigade of 1 Airborne Division, both deployed in Operation Ladbroke. Ladbroke was the opening move of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. The Staffords were given the task of seizing or destroying anything that the Italians could use to stop British seaborne forces from coming up Highway 115 and rapidly capturing the port city of Syracuse (see the Staffords’ orders here).
Waterloo was the codename for a triple bridge [map], the Ponte Grande (literally, the “Big Bridge”), which was the primary focus of Operation Ladbroke. It carried Highway 115 and was seen as the key to seizing Syracuse [map]. The old iron bridge across the Anapo has vanished, but its north ramp [photo] still remains beside the new bridge that replaced it. The bridge across the Mammaiabica and Ciane is in still its original place. One of the pillboxes defending the north bank is now in the grounds of the Dafne restaurant.
Putney was the codename for the railway bridge across the Mammaiabica and Ciane [map]. It is not clear if the codename applied just to the bridge, or included the railway bridge across the Anapo, or also some of the surroundings (see discussion below about Dudley and Gornal).
Bilston was a large strongpoint [map] straddling Highway 115. When I last looked, there were still several pillboxes dotted about the area, some cut in half by road widening [photo].
Gnat was a battery of guns that defended Syracuse’s harbour. The site of the battery [map] is now Il Faraone restaurant. Nothing is left of the battery except the fire control bunker, which is situated behind the restaurant’s bar.
Walsall was a strongpoint [map] straddling Highway 115, not far south of the Ponte Grande. It was based around an inland lighthouse which is still there [photo]. For part of the story of the fighting around Walsall, see [here].
Mosquito was a battery of guns close to Highway 115. The battery’s site [map] is now covered with houses, and there is no trace left of the battery’s emplacements and buildings. However there are still some remains of the strongpoint at its northern end [photo].
Dudley and Gornal
‘A’ Company of the Staffords was ordered to land in LZ 3 North [map] “i) to occupy Dudley, ii) to capture Gornal, iii) to establish all round protection in area Putney”. I have found no evidence as to what or where Dudley and Gornal were. Presumably they were near LZ 3 North and also Putney (see above). One of them may have been the strongpoint in the area between the two railway bridges [map]. If any readers know of any original 1943 documents that have more specific information on Dudley and Gornal, or which clarify the exact scope of Putney, do please leave a reply below.
The only mention I have seen of Dudley is on the website http://www.military-history.biz/britishairbornetroops1940-45/26732-the-invasion-of-sicily.html. One of the maps places it on the bridge in between Waterloo and Putney. However as they have the LZs and Walsall incorrectly located, the source is suspect. Surely if Dudley and Gornal were A Coy Staffs’ objectives, then the Grid refs would have been included in their written orders and thus can be accurately located? Where can they be seen?
Thanks Jeremy. I have studied the orders closely and transcribed them here. The map you mention has other errors as well, so I think it can be safely ignored. The original orders can be found in the National Archives in Kew. Apart from the single mention in the orders I transcribed, I have found no other references to Dudley and Gornal in any of the documents I have seen in Kew. Perhaps some other 1943 sources will yet come to light, or perhaps somebody reading this already knows where some can be found.
Hello, I wonder if you can help solve a puzzle for me that relates to the Emmanuelle Russo battery at the north end of the Maddalena Peninsula.
1. As it was armed with the same type 152/45 guns as the Lamba Doria battery and was as much a danger to the Allied shipping as the battery destroyed by the SRS,
2. what am I missing when I say I’ve been unable to find the name of the unit detailed with the capture of the Russo battery. I realise that it was quickly deserted by its gunners but it was too important a target to ignore, so who was given the mission?
3. As an aside, Sicily 43 by James Holland has a sketch map showing the SRS attack on the peninsula and it indicates a third battery on the edge of Syracuse Bay, yet the Russo battery is ignored.
4. I feel that this “battery” was actually a single gun site, namely AS309 with a 76/40 dual purpose gun later photographed whist being manned by RM gunners and latterly concreted over during the build of the Hotel Minaretto.
I must add that I am a keen amateur historian and have walked over a great deal of this area and am reasonably familiar with its topography and certainly agree with your thoughts on the actual site of the Italian 152/45.
Thanks Peter. I’ve taken the liberty of numbering your points.
1. You make a good point, but in fact ER had a limited field of fire that prevented it from hitting the invasion beaches, so disabling it was not critical to the assault phase. Nevertheless, it dominated Syracuse harbour and would need dealing with before the port could be used.
2. Again, an interesting point. I also haven’t found any first wave units allocated to ER, or AS 309, or some others. The SAS were given the option, but not the order, to tackle other objectives [story]. Apart from LD, the Allied planners seem to have prioritised the field batteries and obstacles on or near Highway 115, the route to Syracuse. These got the specific attention of commandos and airborne troops, as well as seaborne infantry. However almost all strong points and batteries, prioritised or not, were on the naval target lists, and some came under heavy fire from RN ships. It seems that strong points between the 115 and the coast were expected to wither once cut off, or be dealt with ad-hoc if they made a nuisance of themselves. For example, the Italian garrison at Torre Cuba went unattended until the 11th, when part of 3 Commando, having completed its allotted tasks, was sent to deal with it and with the post at Capo Ognina [story].
3. Holland’s map on page xxii is based closely on the map on p32 of Harrison’s “These Men Are Dangerous”, which makes the same mistakes. Incidentally, the inset map on page xxii seems to be based on my discoveries [here], although in my opinion it gets all three landing spots wrong.
4. All correct, apart from the fact that AS 309 had 6 guns.